Mike Hollow was born in the Essex County Borough of West Ham – home of the Blitz Detective – on the eastern edge of London. He grew up mainly in Romford and went to the Royal Liberty School, then studied Russian and French at Cambridge University.
After a stint translating for the BBC he did various jobs before moving to work in communications for development agency Tearfund, travelling widely in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 2002 he went freelance as a writer, editor and creative project manager but now he gives all his time to writing the popular Blitz Detective books. You can find Mike's books on our catalogue.
- Who were your heroes and influences as you were growing up and when did you first realise that you wanted to write?
When I was 11, C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe captivated me. Four children evacuated from London to escape the Blitz in 1940 step into a wardrobe and find themselves in a magical land – if only it could be true! That’s when I first experienced the power of a great story, and I wanted to write. Later I spent most of my adult life working with words in one way or another, but to write novels and be published was only a dream. Now that I’m really doing it, I still have to pinch myself.
- How did DI John Jago come to life?
I wanted to see how a detective would fare in the extreme conditions of the Blitz – people were being killed by bombs every night, but murder was still different and had to be investigated. I wanted him to be old enough to carry scars from the first world war, yet young enough to face the challenges of the second. His name and his forebears are Cornish, like mine, and through him I hoped to bring to life the world and youth of my parents. As he took shape in my mind, he was a man I thought I’d like to get to know.
- What is your writing routine? Do you research first or get an idea and then research whether it was possible?
I start with a body and a location and then start asking myself who, why, how and when. I go to the place and walk the streets, and find out as much as I can about what it was like in the past. Then it’s a to and fro between idea and research – I research to make sure my ideas are realistic for the period, but then the research itself throws up ideas for plot strands and character traits. As the story starts to grow in my mind, I write what I see – if I imagine a scene, I don’t make notes, I just write it as it’s playing out in my mind. Some scenes end up in the book, some don’t.
- When you started writing did you view the books as a series?
Yes, I set out to write a series, because I know that if I read a book by a particular author and enjoy it, I want to read another.
- I have to ask this as people ask us! Several of your earlier books have been re-issued under different titles. What is the best order to read your books in?
In 2020 I moved to a new publisher, who took the opportunity to revise the four previously published books and to rebrand the whole series with a new cover design and new titles and continue it in the same style. I’m very pleased with the results, and while the books are all stand-alone stories, the best order to read them in is 1. The Blitz Detective, 2. The Canning Town Murder, 3. The Custom House Murder, 4. The Stratford Murder, 5. The Dockland Murder, 6. The Pimlico Murder.
- Is there anything you can share with us about your latest project?
The Pimlico Murder is published in November 2021, and I’m just starting work on the next book. It’ll be set in another part of London, although I’m not sure where yet, and it’ll start with a body. I know who the victim is, and I have a rough idea of who the perpetrator is, although on past experience I know that may well change as the story develops. I’m hoping DI Jago will be able to unravel the mystery, and as for his love life, well…
- What is the best thing about being a published author?
I write to entertain people, so the best thing is when I hear from readers around the world who’ve enjoyed and appreciated my books. It makes all the time and effort worthwhile.
- One book that you would recommend?
I recently read Still Life by the Canadian author Louise Penny and found it very enjoyable.
- What is the best advice you were ever given?
It’s ‘Kill your darlings’ and it means if you’ve written a passage that you’ve worked hard on and really love and can’t bear the thought of losing it, but it doesn’t work for the overall story, you just have to be heartless with yourself and cut it out. Only you will know – everyone else will just have a better read. It’s essential advice for anyone who wants to be a disciplined and effective writer.
- Can you tell us one thing about yourself that your readers may not know?
I started these answers with C.S. Lewis’s account of an unusual event in a wardrobe, so I’ll end with another: the brilliant actor David Suchet of Poirot fame once recorded one of my poems – in his wardrobe.